I started attending a Sunday School class at Palma Ceia United Methodist Church a few years ago because a retired minister was teaching sessions on several Methodist related topics in which I was interested. I am the youngest person in the class by quite a few years, but found a great group of intelligent and thoughtful people.
In 2008 I took a resolution to the Administrative Council of the church asking that they adopt a non-discrimination statement. It included all the categories in the United Methodist Social Principles, and that includes sexual orientation. Well you would have thought I’d ask them to torture their mothers’. It was surprisingly ugly. I have, as have most gay people, been touched by the recent spate of suicides by gay teens. We know a lot of the ugly rhetoric comes from “religious” people and religion. So I believe people of faith have a special obligation to try to tamp down the madness, and to send a message, especially, to young gay people that they are loved and welcome.
So, two Sunday’s ago, I was teaching the class (as I’ve done a number of times), and took a few minutes at the end of the class to deliver the following statement. I have been amazed at the outpouring of concern and support, and a number of them are willing to attend the Council meeting with me in November. I will reintroduce the resolution leaving out the section about trying reasonably to deal only with other organizations with similar statements. The council members previously used this as their primary objection.
I don’t remember exactly when I started attending this class, but I came for lessons by Dick Martin on The History of Methodism and The History of John Wesley, and I sort of found a home here at Palma Ceia. And for better or worse, you’ve been stuck with me since.
Despite being an outsider in a number of ways, you all welcomed me, and even allowed me learn a great deal from you. I feel I’ve developed some friendships in here, and I am grateful to have gotten to know each one of you.
I’m coming today though to do something I’m loathe to do, and that is to impose on that friendship. What I’m going to discuss may make some of you uncomfortable, but I can’t apologize for that because I’m going to be discussing something that literally has life and death consequences.
Back in 2008 I went to the Administrative Council calling on the Church to adopt a statement of non-discrimination. It included a call for the church to try to do business only with other business and organizations with a similar statement. There’s nothing in the statement that is not in the Discipline and Social Principles, but it was met, at that time, with a great deal of hostility. I could go into what I believe that to be based on, but that’s no longer the point.
The point now is, as it has been for many years, that children are dying at their own hand because they are being bullied at school. Now we all know that some amount of that is just part of growing up, and children are bullied for many reasons, but studies make it clear that a primary reason is because they are gay or perceived to be gay or lesbian. And just over the past few weeks, six children have killed themselves, and one young man has had his arm broken.
Here’s some information on these kids. I wanted to put a face on this problem. [download id="1"]
And lest you think this is not our problem, I want to assure you that there have been and are kids in our youth group who are gay. When Rev. Mac was here, he had approached me to discuss, without divulging any confidences, gay youth and parents who had approached them for help and support. I have also had occasion to run into some of our youth at gay events.
I think these past weeks caused me to reach a tipping point. I was already fed up with the politicians using lies and distortions about my life to score political points, and by religious people raising money and support for their own false bigotries on my back. I launched my own little campaign called “Say it to my face,” in which I do my best to get in touch with some of these people, or someone on their staff, and call them out on their comments. I don’t know if I accomplish much, but it can be fun sometimes, and I feel better.
I’m over 50 now. I experienced some of that bullying growing up, and I’ve experienced discrimination in my religious and professional lives, but there’s not much left that can hurt me. However, my heart has been ripped out by these recent events, and it’s time for some adult leadership, because many of the so-called adults, wrapping themselves in the cloak of a false Christianity need to realize their words have consequences. Their words make a group of people, “the other,” and it’s always easier to hate and violate people not like us. The dehumanizing bigotries that fall from the lips of some people, even some who claim to be “Christians,” and the lies that spew forth from some public figures give children a license to verbally abuse, humiliate and condemn the gay children they encounter at school. And many of these straight children—having listened to mom and dad talk about how gay marriage is a threat to the family, will destroy society and how gay sex is awful, and gay people are worse than terrorists (all things have been said publicly)–feel justified in physically attacking the gay and lesbian students in their schools. You don’t have to explicitly “encourage children to mock, hurt, or intimidate” gay kids. Encouragement—along with hatred and fear—is implicit. It’s here, it’s clear, and we can see the fruits of it.
So I’ve had enough. I can’t change the world, but I can work to change my little corner of the world. Remember, during the Warren study, I said I had figured out my purpose in life…to leave things a little better than I found them.
I am no longer going to sit by and allow bigots to eat at the souls of the gay youth of this community. I am returning to the Administrative Council at their next meeting in November to re-submit this resolution without some of the additional requirements. ([download id="2"])We at this church need to send the message to our youth, and to the broader community that all are welcome here at this House of God…that everyone, but especially our youth, are loved and respected, and are children of God.
Regardless of how you feel about gay people, you can’t believe it’s OK for children to be bullied to the point they see suicide as their only option. Dr. Warren Throckmorten, a conservative evangelical said it very well:
“As a traditional evangelical, I may have some differences of opinion with my gay friends. However, such ideological differences don’t matter to a middle school child who is afraid to go to school.
There are many such children who need adults to care more about their well being than about religious differences. Adults need to focus on common values of respect and civility and take the culture war off the school campus.”
He goes on to say, “It seems to me that people of faith should lead the way in providing safe and respectful environments for all. To do this, you have to be there and you have to name the problem to solve it.”
If you remember when we concluded our study of the Social Principles I asked you all to stand, and reminded you of how Martin Luther famously said, “Here I stand Lord, I can do no other.” Well here I stand, imposing on our friendship, because I’m asking you to stand with me…to ensure the children and youth of this church know this is a safe place for them…a place where they are loved and respected and supported for who they are, and where the teaching of Jesus is that all are welcome in his house.
Martin Luther King said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” I am asking you to be a friend to these kids, and speak up. I am asking you to join me at that Administrative Council meeting on November 29, and I am asking you to discuss this with your friends, and invite them to join us there.
I do not apologize if it makes you feel uncomfortable because children are dying, and I cannot, as a Christian, continue to stand by silently.
And as Forest Gump famously said, “And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.”
I also provided a sheet with a photo and brief bio of the teens who recently committed suicide.